Finding Love on the Camino

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My favorite Camino buddy. He gave me kisses when I was having a particularly rotten morning.

Today, a work colleague asked me if I could boil down what I’d learned on the Camino into a simple statement or two. Of course I couldn’t, because I just got back, and I’m still absorbing all of the lessons that fell in my lap while I was walking 500 miles through Spain. However, I took a few minutes to tell her what I was thinking about today, and it was a good thought, so I figured I’d share it here with you, too. Here’s what I wrote:

“In regards to boiling down lessons learned on the Camino, I heard this amazing quote near the end of the trip that really resonated with me: ‘Every encounter is an encounter with yourself.’ I met so many interesting people from all over the world, some of whom I’m sure will be lifelong friends. You can get surprisingly close in a very short amount of time when your only duties are to walk, eat, and sleep.

I was reading The Dalai Lama’s Cat a little at a time, and happened upon the concepts that we’re all made of love, and that true happiness comes from being good to others. [I already knew that I liked to be nice to other people, and that serving others made me feel good.] But what I hadn’t realized before I left is how little I showed love and compassion to myself on a regular basis.”

One of the behaviors I started to realize in myself while walking is my great love of animals, and a need to seek them out on the Camino. I had some really intense interactions with all kinds of pets and livestock on The Way, and it became apparent to me that for me, having a good day was dependent on having these conversations with horses, feeding starving dogs, and giving belly rubs to barn cats. Eventually it started to dawn on me that this love I felt the need to shower on my animal friends was something that I desperately needed to be able to show myself, and that in these encounters I was giving back to me in the only way my subconscious knew how. Once that dawned on me, I started trying to apply that same rule to my human companions (sans belly rubs), and ended up getting the first hints of a message that I’m only now starting to really soak in and figure out.

In short, I learned that I am both capable of giving, and worthy of receiving, boundless love and kindness. Silly me, not looking more deeply into the words of St. Francis – “Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love” – in the first place. Now it’s time to start gluing my thoughts together and making a better, stronger life out of what I’ve learned.

The Strangeness Of Knowing

My romantic brain has picked this entire scenario apart. I remember the first time I saw you, unenthused, odd, apart. You were the first to point out to me that you had resting bitch face, but that was years after initially laying eyes on you at that mc chris concert. My eyes slid over your seemingly joyless expression, and I made a mental note of the unhappy man standing slightly to the back left of our always jolly mutual friend. I thought that maybe it wasn’t your kind of show. But the music started, and I forgot all about you as I sang along to my favorite songs. Where were you at the end of the night? Did we all get drinks after the music stopped? Not a clue.

The next time I remember seeing you was a year or so later when our friend asked me to be an extra in your movie. It rained that day, and all of us extras just sat around in your friend’s living room, watching How I Met Your Mother and waiting to be needed. My attention was evenly divided between the television screen and the hustle and bustle of the man in charge of our ragtag band. You were overseeing makeup in the kitchen, and periodically giving various crew members directions. I found something about you intriguing, a little off-putting. I don’t know if I put two and two together then, and saw that you were the same guy I’d met at the mc chris concert. You weren’t unhappy, though, so I bet I didn’t. It kept raining that night, and I never got to be in the movie, though I watched it a couple of times once it was released. I thought it was clever, and I was proud to have been considered for a part, even if it never happened.

What I really remember was my 30th birthday, and seeing you at the end of that bar. Feeling drawn to you, but resisting the urge to draw attention to myself. I was taken, and I’m not naturally very extroverted. It never made sense to me to try to make friends with guys when I was in a relationship. It seems a little too forward. What can I say, I’m old fashioned that way. But probably more important was that I could overhear your conversation from my place a few barstools away, and you just seemed too smart for me. I was very conscious of you that night, though. I can’t remember a single other face in the bar the way that I can see yours. When I got up to walk to the bathroom at one point, I was so self-conscious of my stride. Were you watching me as I crossed the room? I doubt it. But then I thought maybe you were. That was a particularly happy birthday for me, even though I was at someone else’s birthday party, and none of my own friends had shown up. I had an amazing time, just drinking by myself, taking selfies, talking to whoever sat down beside me. You and I did talk for maybe a minute – long enough for our friend to introduce us for what was at least the fourth or fifth time at that point in our travels. I left the bar that night feeling elated. Was it the beginning of falling for you? A hint that something could be different? Like I said, I have a romantic brain. I’m building a story in reverse. There was nothing between us then. You didn’t know I existed. But isn’t it fun to let your mind play tricks on you at a later date?

Then of course there came the afternoon at the movies when I snapped at you for not remembering me. And Knights of Badassdom, a completely unintended date. Then Neutral Milk Hotel, and the realization that you were made of magic. A comedy show a couple of weeks later, followed by one of the most intense makeout sessions I’d had since high school. You’ve had me hooked since the beginning, with the hours of sincere conversation, bouts of laughter, genuine concern for my wellbeing, a reassuring physical presence, those breathtaking kisses. You’ve become a necessary component. I could live without you, but I don’t know that it would be worthwhile.

Last night you came home later than I’d expected. You were out so late that I’d almost texted you an hour earlier to demand your whereabouts. Then I realized that since I wouldn’t be texting out of fear or jealousy, only a vague sense of irritation that my schedule was being tampered with, I should stop being ridiculous and let you have your fun. I’d only been asleep for maybe 30 minutes when the front door banged open (not your fault – since the painter gave it that last coat, we’ve had to heave ourselves into the door every time to get it to unstick from the frame). That didn’t bug me, but for some reason when you dropped your wallet on the end table a minute or two later, I was startled and my heart skipped a beat. I tore off my sleeping mask and stared accusingly at you, bathed in lamplight there in the living room, looking absolutely mortified to know you’d woken me. For a second I was angry, but it dissolved immediately as I saw your sweet expression, so pained at having caused me any discomfort. You walked into the bedroom and bent over me, staring deeply into my eyes, apologizing for coming home so late, and for waking me. Your eyes were so full of love, so warm, so joyous. You kissed me in penance. Once again I was overcome with how much I love you, and how happy you make me.

We are both struggling with life right now. Things aren’t easy. We’re trying to make our way in a world that makes so little sense, holding on to the parts that are real and right and true. For me, you’re one of those parts. I’ve still got a lot of healing to go, but you make my life a better place to be. Until that night last year when I realized my fascination was reciprocated, and that I seemed to have stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for, hidden in plain view, I always thought that old adage of “you’ll just know” was complete and utter bullshit. But now I get it. Everything just fell into place. Yeah, we’re not perfect. But we’re perfect for each other. And now I know what knowing feels like. It’s a strange and welcome sensation.

Sunday Picture Show (Keeping Afloat)

I’d typically be calling this my Photography Friday post, but since I’m two days late, we’re trying something new. This week’s Photo Challenge prompt is to share photos that exemplify what “afloat” means to us, and I’ve taken quite a few lately…

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My workouts at Iron Tribe can be a bit intense, but I love every minute of it. Even better than feeling strong and capable is the fact that a hard workout every day keeps me happy and relaxed. These are the blisters on my right hand after a kettlebell workout earlier this week.

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My Isabel. I love my cats – there’s nothing like having a good cuddle after a hard day, though Izzy isn’t prone to being that affectionate unless it’s bedtime. When I was sick and feeling miserable last week, she came and napped with me on the couch.

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One of my favorite things to do is walk around New Orleans and take photos of the things that capture my attention. Street art never fails to captivate and stir my imagination. I take a lot of photos of cool graffiti around town, but this one struck my fancy last week. Let me find out, indeed.

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Small details help keep me grounded (or afloat, whichever turn of phrase you prefer). I love that looking for little things helps keep me mindful and “in the moment”, and while I’m walking around town, I try to capture these moments in photos if possible. This is a shot I took of water droplets collecting on a newly painted front stoop the other day. I loved how the water was pooling, and was pretty satisfied with the colors of the shot in the end. The stoop was a brilliant shade of teal, but the shadows gave a purple sheen.

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The idea that I’ll be leaving for the Camino in six months is definitely keeping me sane and happy. I walk to and from work (about 2 miles) each day, and on the way to work, I cross over Spain Street. Each time that I notice the street sign, I can’t help but be reminded of how lucky I am, and how amazing it’s going to be to finally get my boots on the ground in Spain this October.

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You, you amazing man. I don’t know how I made it this long without you in my life. You’re everything I’ve been looking for for all this time. Thank you for making me so much stronger, and giving me the strength to realize that I didn’t need a man in my life to be complete – but having the right one could make everything that much sweeter. You make me laugh, you make me think, and you’ve helped me make myself whole. Your encouragement and faith have pushed me to new heights as a person, and I only hope that I can return the favor. I love you.

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Unconditional

I’m writing this from the Dallas airport, on my way back home to New Orleans and a brand new work week. I spent the weekend in Austin and San Antonio with my friends Trinity and Katie. Trin was my college roommate, assigned by the school for the freshman dorm. Despite the odds given our strange pairing, we ended up being best friends. A couple of years later, we moved in with a third roommate, Katie, and our sisterhood has survived so much over the years. They both became architects and moved away – Trinity to Texas, Katie to Croatia. Now they’re both married with small children, and our extremely varied life experiences are adding another dimension to our friendship dynamic.

To me, both of my old roommates/besties have always been so outgoing and fascinating. They have welcoming personalities that attract strange adventures and lots of new friends. You could sum us up pretty easily by watching us walk into a party at 20. Katie, golden hair, tight jeans, big Texas personality, and at least three coats of mascara, heads straight for the keg and conversation, ready to sling a few back and talk shit with the guys. Trin grabs a cocktail, makes her rounds to give everyone at the party her good wishes/seemingly unbroken attention (how does she do it?), turns up the radio, and starts a dance party that magnetizes the room. I walk in behind them and make a beeline to the drinks and the quietest spot at the party. I’m overwhelmed, but interested in dancing, maybe, at some point. As long as no one’s watching; these jeans don’t really fit as well as I’d wish, and my arms are jiggly. You know, let’s just wait for a better song. Or maybe another drink? Eh, we’ll see what happens later. The couch is really nice. Mostly I make my friends by staying in one spot and talking to whoever sits down next to me (it never fails – it’s really the best way to meet people if you’re terrified of the whole introduction process). Eventually Katie gets into dancing mode and comes out to turn the party up a notch with Trin. By then, I’ve had a few drinks and don’t really give a crap what anyone thinks, then we’re all dancing, and the party is golden. But the couch-sitting me has just been put on the back burner for awhile. She’ll be back tomorrow, if not sooner.

When we were younger, even though I felt comfortable in their presence in most ways, and certainly much more than I did with other people, I always felt a little awkward in comparison. It was a little like being the little sister who didn’t quite understand how to fit in with my cooler older sisters, but was still loved and accepted. Maybe it’s my age, or the length and depth of our friendship, but things are different now. I can’t quite place it, but I guess on a base level I’m realizing that everyone has their own issues to handle. Just the same, we each have something special to add to the conversation, as long as we find the people who’re willing to listen.

Gone are the days of getting extravagantly made up, in tallest heels and shortest skirt, and going out to make adventures. We’ve entered an era where we’re older, wiser, and starting to show a little wear and tear. And who knows why – age, maturity, less patience, more acceptance – but we’re also willing to talk about our body insecurities with each other in a little more detail. It’s probably that knowledge that allowed me to begin really contemplating what it would feel like to stop beating myself up about my body, and learn to love it instead. It made this weekend the perfect time to start my journey, since I could officially kick everything off in the company of two people who have always accepted me, flaws and all, without a second thought.

Today’s prompt in Beautiful You is to talk about how I feel about myself and why, and say what I think a healthy sense of self and a healthy life will give to me. Most of all, I want to love and accept myself the same way I love and accept my friends – fully, unconditionally, no questions asked. I have a handful of people in my life for whom I’d lay down my life without a second thought. I might have an uncharitable thought every now and then (who doesn’t?) but I’d never hold on to it for longer than it took to find another way to encounter the situation. Why don’t I do this for myself?

I’m hoping that I can eventually see myself not as an enemy to be corralled and controlled, but a beloved one for whom I wish nothing but the best. If I loved myself the way I love my friends, the way that they love me, I’d constantly be on the lookout for ways to show my love more. I’d ask myself if I’d like some water, carefully consider how my mood would improve with the right sustenance, give myself permission to find a quiet spot to unwind, stop picking on myself for weaknesses, celebrate strengths. I’d have no choice but to shine under my own care.

It’s not about being thin, really. It’s about not feeling constantly under attack, or constantly in need of a scolding for my behavior. It impedes everything. It makes me feel less attractive, which greatly affects my ability to be intentionally playful, powerful, confident, and sexy. My own guilt for not being perfect is the biggest problem in my life right now. I’d love to find a way to work through it. I’m going to. So thanks, Katie and Trin (and Jess and Amy). I might not have said it in so many words, but you’ve helped me kick off something big (yet again).

Nerd Girl Meets Bad Boy (aka. Closing Time)

This is the second installment of a series I’m calling “Nerd Girl Meets…”. Two of the biggest themes in my life thus far have been the seemingly endless search for romantic companionship and the definitely endless search for great music. Love and music tend to go together in my life, for better or worse. Almost every person I’ve cared for has had a song that is forever etched in my memory, either as a defining factor of the person or a thematic element of the relationship. I want to share some of those relationships and their songs here, as a way of examining the moments that have made me, as well as a way of celebrating the soundtrack of my life. Even if it hasn’t been exactly perfect, it’s still mine.

Junior year in high school was a breakout year for me. I came into my own when I turned 16, and though I wasn’t one of the popular crowd, I was cute, geeky, and weird enough to catch peoples’ interest. There were plenty of girlfriends to pass notes and gossip with, and suddenly it wasn’t looking all that difficult to find boyfriends, either. There was one particular guy that really held my attention; always one for the bad boy, I’d singled out a dude named Henry who met all of my requirements. He had big, rough hands, spoke in innuendo, loved to make me laugh, and was just as keen as I to make out in the back hall by shop class when no one was looking. During the few months we were hanging out, I’d often sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep just to call him up and talk for hours.

It wasn’t a great relationship, though, and that’s mostly because it wasn’t a relationship, at all. In the time-honored tradition of being an absolute jerk, Henry was gaming the system. I didn’t know it, of course. I didn’t even know he had other love interests, though there were rumors that he’d dated a particularly needy and possibly psychotic girl in the grade below ours, and that the breakup was dramatic and ongoing. The rumor mill was churning out all kinds of juicy gossip on Henry’s ex, including the fact that she’d threatened other girls to stay away from him in the past, and that she’d even talked about getting pregnant to force him to stay with her. At the time, I didn’t believe a word of it, but soon I started to wonder if I should.

Henry shied away from being seen with me at school. There was no explanation of why, and in my naive way, I just assumed that he wasn’t into PDA. He was cute, and I was really into him, so I just let him call the shots. We exchanged notes, snuck kisses, went on dates, and spent countless hours on the phone, but at his request, I didn’t tell anyone about him. Then, one afternoon after school, I got a phone call from the crazy ex. Surprisingly, crazy ex sounded kind of sane, and wanted to be friends. We’d never even talked before. Alarm bells (finally) started going off. I extricated myself from the phone call as soon as possible, and started reassessing my interest in this guy.

That weekend, I went out with Henry on a date. There was only one real option for a proper date within an hour radius of my hometown (for those of us with 10pm curfews, anyway) – quick dinner and a movie, 15 to 30 minutes of making out in the Walmart parking lot, then home again, home again, jiggity jig. In keeping with the tradition, we’d watched a movie, and were in the middle of making out in Henry’s truck outside of Walmart when “Closing Time” by Semisonic came on.

He was starting to get too handsy, and I wasn’t comfortable with doing anything but kissing, so I calmly disengaged. When he pulled away from me, for just a second I glimpsed anger in his eyes. He smothered it, but not before I saw that he was hiding himself from me. That was the moment that everything just clicked. I suddenly knew what was going on. Things weren’t over with his ex. He wasn’t willing to throw away his sure thing, a girl who would sleep with him, for a girl with no plans of losing her virginity. In the space of the song’s chorus, I suddenly understood everything I needed to know to get me through the shittiest parts of interacting with men for the next 15+ years. I also had a good feeling that I’d never go after another bad boy (at least on purpose).

Henry drove me home, dropped me off, and then never spoke to me again. There were no harsh words spoken, and no inklings of a breakup. He avoided me in the halls for a week or two, and I got the hint. Not long after, I heard that he and his ex were once again an item. For awhile, she kept up her weird habit of calling me up once a week to pretend that we were friends, so she could gloat about how much fun she and her boyfriend were having now that they were back together again. But it wasn’t long before those phone calls stopped, too.

I’ve never really enjoyed “Closing Time,” even though Semisonic is one of my favorite 90’s bands (in fact, “FNT” and “Secret Smile” are two of my all-time top songs). The song doesn’t give me bad memories, or make me feel bitter. Instead, it feels like flipping through the channels and suddenly running across a movie that you had to watch for a class project. Part of you recognizes that it’s a good movie, but the rest of you can only think of how this movie was once school work, and since school work is tedious, by extension the movie must be, too. The first chords make me groan internally. I’m immediately annoyed at this unfair ending. Or maybe I’m just annoyed at the 16 year old who was already going for losers in what was basically an attempt to not be the last one sitting at the bar when last call comes around. But hey, we were all there once. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Coated In Ashes

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Today I’m thinking about mortality, for pretty obvious reasons, given today’s news reports about the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. I was raised in a household where I was constantly being told that we were on the brink of WWIII, and that I should be ready to fight for my survival when the time came. My father wasn’t a survivalist, but he was – and remains – quite the pessimist. He scared the shit out of me, permanent emotional scars, lasting fears of a coming apocalypse that regularly play themselves out in my dreams (no, not nightmares…my nightmares are of much simpler, far more realistic things).

In hindsight, I guess I’d rather be frightened and knowledgeable about the risks of living than to be not at all worried, and completely ignorant to the world around me. I dunno. It’s a slippery slope between being a conspiracy theorist/alarmist and being well-informed. Today in particular, I’m seeing the headlines and thinking about all the chances people have had to do things correctly. Mostly, my thoughts settle on the fact that there are entire countries full of people just trying to live in peace, but then you add a few asshole nutjobs who feel like killing kids for shits and giggles, or maybe trying to blow up a plane because they think it’ll make them seem tough, and now here we are, millions of good men, women and children who’re about to be brutalized by war for what? Nothing. Idiocy. Pride. Machismo. Religious rhetoric. I’m scared, and I’m tired. Why must it be this way? What can we do, besides keep trying, like countless generations before us, to live lightly and be good to our fellow humans, and hope that it catches on?

I find it hard to believe in reincarnation, but a tiny piece of me identifies with a spinster woman who lives in the woods, away from the village. She helps ease difficult births, and treats common maladies. She is reviled for her knowledge. She will die for her love and goodness, and at the hands of those she’s cared for during their lowest moments. I feel for her. I feel like her. I am scared that I will become her. I’m scared that I will not be good enough to become her. I don’t want my fear to beat the goodness out of me. I refuse to let it.

And then what of hope and trust and love and happiness? And why now am I at the highest of highs in my personal life, feeling stronger by far than I have in so very long, when the world around us seems to be more frail than ever? Do I keep living like there’s more time to get things right, or do I throw caution to the wind, and rise along with it? Is my fear greater now because there’s suddenly so much more to lose? I’m forcing myself to bite my tongue lest I say too much. I’m digging in my heels and straining against my own need to run wild and frantic, this raw emotion burning away anything that stands between us. I am the Phoenix. I am the Crone. I am terrified of what will be, but confident that I can do no more than what I’ve always done: live. At least now there’s someone to hold my hand at night, to watch over as I sleep. The villagers will have to take us both, I guess.

Over My Head

It’s night. Gravel crunches under the tires of the old Dodge Ram as it rattles, just a few mph too fast, down the two lane track leading to our house. It’s years before the streetlights will be installed on Old County Road, and the truck’s headlights fan out, casting a milky glow over the chest-high weeds that grow along the ditch banks bordering the lane.

The truck’s air conditioner hasn’t worked in years, which would be a problem during the day, but the cool night air mixes sweetly with the gravel dust as it floods in the open windows. As we roll past our neighbor’s expansive back yard, the scent of freshly-cut grass and wild onions layers over the dust smell, almost canceling out the danker smells of the truck – work boots, old chip bags, spilled soda, sweat, wood shavings…the things that make up my father at 33. He shifts at the wheel, a slight rise and tilt of his tailbone, giving a second of relief to his bad left hip. The pain always gets worse when he’s irritated about something. Right now he’s irritated about something my mother has just said.

My mother sits on the passenger side, elbow on the window ledge, fingers tapping the top of the cab. She is 28, with silky brown hair and a long, straight nose that, to my five-year-old mind, just begs to be grasped between thumb and forefinger with a giggly “honk”. She is quick to smile and hug and race, and I’ve already done my fair share of trying her patience, but she’s also monumentally slow to anger. It’s no surprise that her voice bears all the marks of true patience, floating demurely alongside my father’s gruffly barked opinion, right over my head. I find myself sandwiched between the points in their argument.

“But if he loves her…”, she says.

“What does it matter if he loves her? It’s still wrong.”

“But, Butch, if she loves him and he loves her, and if he can take care of her…isn’t that all we could – ”

“How, Pat? How’s he going to take care of her? And what if they have babies, what then? They’ll be outcasts!”

“Babe, all I’m saying is that if she’s in love, and he’s good to her, I don’t care what color he is – brown, green, purple with polka dots. And it’s not going to be up to us, anyway, so you’d better get used to it.”

“If she marries a black guy, she’s out of the family, Patricia. That’s final.”

“Well, not my family.”

The truck whips into our driveway, nearly taking out the mailbox. It slows to a crawl, weaving its way down the rutted path, lined by two acres of woodland that threatens to reclaim the road, the house, and us one day. Ahead, the front porch light flickers into view. My mother grabs her purse and the bags of groceries sitting at her feet in the floorboard. She gets out of the cab before the truck’s engine sputters off, stalking towards the front porch without a backwards glance.

My father sighs deeply, turns off the headlights, then takes the keys out of the ignition. Then he just sits there for a moment. It’s just me and him. I know that something big just happened, but it doesn’t make much sense. I’m little, but they sometimes talk about me like I’m a grownup. I have a sneaking suspicion that my mother won the fight, but it doesn’t matter. There are much bigger problems on my horizon. For instance, right now, tying my shoes is looking to be an insurmountable obstacle. I squirm. I’m old enough to unbuckle my own seatbelt, but this one sticks and needs an adult to push the button. I’m waiting for him to push the button so I can go inside, too. There was Neapolitan ice cream in one of those shopping bags.

He opens the truck door and steps out. “Come on, Boo Bear.”

I make a show of kicking my legs and trying to squeeze out of the safety belt, and we both laugh. He reaches in and unbuckles it, then helps me climb out of the driver’s side, letting me hold his index finger as we walk to the house.

I love strawberry ice cream. One day I’m going to change my name to Strawberry. Wouldn’t it be funny to be named Strawberry and get married to a purple polka-dotted man? What color would our babies be, I wonder?

A Life Built On Caution

In yoga class, our teachers speak of being calm and centered. We’re told to close our eyes, breathe deeply, empty our minds of stray thoughts, focus on the now. For awhile there, I could fool myself into thinking that I was doing it properly. Surely no one could really shed all of the layers, sink so far into themselves that they could fall through and out the other side. Giving way to that is like coming to terms with allowing space to reach down and pluck you up into the sky. To fall up into that vast airlessness with joy? Insane. Impossible. Why think on it?

So I took those breaths, felt my diaphragm expand, explored the thrumming of my heart in my rib cage, tried to quiet the moths-in-a-jar brain, sought to expel the never-ending question: “What do you want out of life? What do you want out of life? What do you want out of life? What do you want…?” In the end, though, I always lost the battle. The questions, the worry, the sadness – everything fell back into place the moment I opened my eyes. The moths threatened to fly me where I wouldn’t let myself float – but being dragged is not the same as volunteering. At times I felt like I was watching myself go mad by the inch.

I had a good idea of my biggest problem, the thing I’d need to change to open a path to every other thing that needed fixing. I’d known for years. But my life was nothing if not built on caution. So many missed chances, all to avoid confrontation.

Back during my undergrad days, I went to a music festival with a big group of friends. Someone suggested that we scale a fence to sneak in – a move that meant a fortune in savings for broke college students. One by one, each friend shimmied over, then stood on the other side, waiting for me, the last man across. With one hand clutching the chain link and both feet safely planted on the grass, I realized I just couldn’t do it. What if someone caught us? What if I got my dress caught in the fence and had to be cut down by firemen? What if a cop came up just as I was climbing, and took me to jail? What if I fell to my death and then my friends got arrested for trespassing and my mom had to come identify my body, but while my friends were in Orleans Parish Prison one of them got shanked and…you get the picture. In the end, the friends got tired of waiting and pooled together to buy my ticket.

Years went by. The festival was just one tiny swell in a sea of avoidance. No confrontation for me, please. I’ll do almost anything to get out of getting a stern talking to, or having to give one. Still, I knew that this would lead to my downfall. Words must be said. Left to their own devices, they become moths. They create their own dank wind, and push you around in it. They must be freed. I knew that parts of my life needed to be adjusted – conversations must be had. I was only sipping at life, while I yearned to breathe it in freely. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The moths became frantic.

Then something happened. Someone happened. It wasn’t all at once – there were years of glimpses, hours of overheard conversations, not just a few minutes of idle daydreams. He was just a person that I admired, innocently, from afar. He was a creator, a man of brooding intensity. He had a way with words that intimidated me. I stood outside, looking at him through the fence, hoping (with little faith) that maybe he’d notice me and climb over to my side. It took awhile, but one day I caught him gazing back at me through the wire mesh. Grinning, he held up a pair of wire cutters.

In most stories, this moment of recognition would be the death knell. After all, real life is never as good as fantasy. Men held high in estimation soon crumble beneath the stark lens of reality. But not here. Not in my story. Because once he entered my realm, once my mind finally had permission to encounter him from all dimensions, not as a symbol, but a flesh and blood man, things fell into place. He was even better from up close. Next to him, I found I could breathe again.

We were friends, and nothing more. But still, I felt the moths start to straggle away, one by one. I gingerly explored this new feeling of empty fullness. From the first true conversation, there was never another day where my brain got snagged in a loop of “What do you want out of life?” I was becoming free. I was terrified. I was ecstatic. Only one (large) puzzle piece remained. How would I find the courage to finally take a chance?

Here I’ll be honest, though it pains me to say it. For awhile, I thought I’d have to give up on this new hope. I was so scared to make a move that I almost didn’t make one. After almost eight years in a relationship, especially one where your significant other professes to adore you, heart and soul, not being able to return the feeling is still just a small problem. There are other things to consider – so many. Shared movie collections, bank accounts, bill payments, furniture…I had grown accustomed to being taken care of, and I didn’t have faith that I knew how to take care of myself anymore. I had been made to feel small, less, and my once wild nature had long since stopped raging, laying limp at the bottom of its cage. A life without passion was draining my soul dry, but I was almost willing to let it happen, just to avoid confrontation.

Before, I was resigned to living a lie to save myself from having to make my partner upset. It seemed messy. Why not put it off? I kept telling myself that maybe I’d change my mind, that maybe I just didn’t understand what “love” meant. Maybe this was all there was, and my dreamer’s heart was just inventing new ways to cause itself grief. Then there were the other issues – my credit is shot, my debt is insurmountable, my career aspirations are not panning out, apartments are expensive, the city is dangerous, what will my parents say, I’m getting old – what about children, and so on, and so on. And now we’re years down the path, and I’m fading away, and he hasn’t seen me or talked to me or laughed at my jokes or heard me cry at night after he falls asleep for years on end.

Without intending it, my new friendship blossomed into more. For awhile I endeavored to avoid him, especially when I knew in my heart that I was too weak and broken for change, that I’d never make a move, and I’d end up breaking myself and my friend in one fell swoop. Nothing untoward occurred. There were no whispered secrets, no stolen kisses, nothing at all that would lead anyone – especially me – to realize that we were becoming our own new entity. Then one night, there was a concert. Conversation. Laughter. Not-so-secret tears. A smile that made his eyes glow like tidal pools, bathed in the light of a full moon. He became my beacon, calling me home. Later, he called me beautiful. How could I explain that it was because I was reflecting him? I told him to wait. I was on my way.

To my surprise, breaking up was quite easy. I’d expected some form of heartache, but it turns out that when you’ve spent the last five plus years alone inside of a faulty relationship, the pain has already come and gone. The Man took it badly, and it did hurt to see him in pain and know that I’d caused it. He was still dear to me, in a way, despite the issues plaguing our relationship. For me, though, once the words were out, the hard part was over. However, for a few days, he questioned my decision, promised change, asked me to reconsider, and I was frightened I’d give in. I struggled to hold my ground. I mulled over the thought that I should stop fighting the current and just go back to the bleak existence I knew, rather than taking a gamble and crossing the fence for good.

Had I not had a prize to keep my eye on, this promise of love as it actually exists, not just as I’d mistakenly come to define it, I might have sunk back into old habits. Throughout it all, my friend – my lover – stood resolutely by, took it all in, gave me courage without saying a word to influence my decision. And somewhere in there, as I packed up my boxes and emptied my bank account and prepared to move into my new life, I realized that I was breathing deeply. I was focusing on the now. And what now was telling me was that I was not small, after all. I was not less. I was much, much more.

There is not much so satisfying as the sound of chain link as it snaps under the pressure of two sharp blades.

 

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty (Neutral Milk Hotel Edition)

The house lights dimmed. A slight shift to her right, and his body heat invaded her space. Her breath snagged. The first song rolled towards them, chords rumbling over her heart. He swayed in time; she let herself follow suit. She sneaked a glance, to find him gazing back, smiling.

(In response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge.)

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The Scents of Memory

There was a man. I loved him. My blood sang when he was near – and every now and then when I see him, I feel like it still wants to. But life has changed, and it’s better that he remains a memory. He had all of these amazing smells:

His long hair and threadbare clothes smelled of squeaky-clean lavender Dr. Bronner’s soap. He used it for everything.

His fingers carried the faint odor of American Spirit tobacco. He rolled his own cigarettes because it was cheaper.

He was a musician, and when I’d come home with him after a show, feeling greedy with want, his skin smelled deliciously of whiskey, sweat, and cigarettes.

I’ve grown to loathe barroom smells, and fear the smell of Dr. Bronner’s on a man, even though I find it simultaneously delectable. That can happen when someone rips out your heart and sets it on fire, then walks away.